Balance Sheet

The Ben Franklin Balance Sheet

Years ago, and as I remember it, one of the cooler periods in my life, I was reading “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”  I think that sentence speaks for itself, but let’s continue.  I read about the Ben Franklin Balance Sheet or what you could refer to as a pros and cons list or “T” chart.  I had used this before and was familiar, but was unaware of its origin and from then on out, both in times of jest and for the deeper decisions, I used the trusty Ben Franklin Balance Sheet.  My wife, then girlfriend, had oh such a good time poking fun of me for saying the “Ben Franklin Balance Sheet” or “BFBS” for short instead of “pros and cons list.”

When I look back on that time and reflect on what I had learned about Ben Franklin, there is one story that remains so very interesting.  The shorter version is that very near the end of his life, as he sat under a large mulberry tree, he came up with the idea to use his Last Will & Testament to create two trust funds, one for Philadelphia and one for Boston that would exist perpetually for 200 years.

He said, “I have considered that among artisans, good apprentices are most likely to make good citizens, and, having myself been bred to a manual art, printing…I wish to be useful even after my death, if possible, in forming and advancing other young men that they may be serviceable to their Country.”  The trust was to loan out money at 5% interest (micro loans) to married men under the age of 25 who had completed apprenticeships and wished to start their own businesses.  The other money could be used for civic causes such as bridges, aqueducts, fortifications and paving.  These trusts were funded with the equivalent of $100,000 (in 2008 dollars) and if you are waiting for the drum roll…yes, they lasted 200 years.  In 1990, despite mismanagement of funds and heirs trying their hardest to stake claim, the trusts dissolved as planned.  The Boston trust funds had grown to be 4.5 million dollars and eventually made their way to the aptly named Ben Franklin Institute of Technology.  The Philadelphia trust funds made their way to the Franklin Institute and totaled approximately 2.5 million dollars.

The parts of this story that I admire most are the foresight on his behalf, his pride in perpetuating a sense of civic responsibility and citizenship, the power of compounding, and his trust in the system (trust in our country) that his wishes and legacy would be carried through.  Like many stories, I am sure there is much untold, which I like to believe is the part about him sitting under his mulberry tree and making a Ben Franklin Balance Sheet to help decide if Ben Franklin should create one trust or two.

Happy Friday! Stay healthy and please be safe!